Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Prototyping Magic: Arms-on with the Wire-Free Jumperless Breadboard

Prototyping Magic: Arms-on with the Wire-Free Jumperless Breadboard



At first look, it seems like a joke: if you wish to observe the success of the solderless breadboard, the electronics equal of the breakthrough that was the invention of sliced bread, you are going to should take away the jumper wires too. Besides no person informed Kevin Santo Cappuccio it was a joke — and the result’s the Jumperless.

Designed to imitate the format of a regular half-size solderless breadboard, with all the identical connections, the Jumperless is powered by a Raspberry Pi RP2040 microcontroller and a matrix of switches. The latter are the key to its success, making connections between rows and columns instead of the the standard flying-lead jumper wires you see tangling up breadboard tasks.

However that is not all of the Jumperless can do. Hiding behind these eye-catching LEDs is a surprisingly highly effective platform for prototyping and experimentation — however is it actually the very best factor for the reason that solderless breadboard?

{Hardware}

  • Breadboard: 10-column, 30-row, two energy rails
  • Microcontroller: Raspberry Pi RP2040
  • Growth header: Arduino Nano or pin-compatible
  • RGB LEDs: Two per row, one per energy rail phase, one per enlargement header pin
  • Connectivity: Mini-USB 2.0, energy and information
  • Enter/Output: 4× general-purpose, 4× analog inputs (1× ±8V, 3× 0-5V), 2× analog output (by way of Microchip MCP4822, 1× ±8V, 1× 0-5V)
  • Extras: 12× WCH Electronics CH446Q crosspoint switches

The specs sheet for the Jumperless appears to be like rather a lot nearer to 1 for a growth board than a breadboard. There is a good purpose for that: it’s a growth board, albeit one designed with a really particular function in thoughts.

The on-board Raspberry Pi RP2040 microcontroller is not there to run your code, however to host the firmware Cappuccio says he spends “each waking second” working to enhance. It is this that handles all the pieces from organising the crosspoint switches to wire up your tasks to measuring present draw or organising an analog output — and the communication between the Jumperless and your host PC.

It additionally handles the shocking variety of RGB LEDs festooned across the board. There are two per breadboard row, discovered in the midst of the five-hole sections both facet of the dividing middle line, one for every five-hole phase of the dual energy rails — with separate LEDs for VCC and floor — and one every for each pin of the board’s enlargement header.

Stated header is the place you flip the Jumperless into a real growth board: it is designed to simply accept an Arduino Nano or pin-compatible microcontroller, which is then free to speak with the on-board RP2040. That opens up some attention-grabbing potentialities: it is potential, for one shocking instance, for the Arduino Nano to reconfigure the wiring of the breadboard itself by sending a string over a UART bus — however we’re getting forward of ourselves.

Simply because the Jumperless is designed to be jumperless doesn’t suggest it needs to be. Beneath all these glowing lights and RP2040-powered smarts is a breadboard, and also you’re free to attach it up with jumper wires for those who actually wished to. Whereas that is arguably faster than utilizing Wokwi, the graphical circuit design and simulation device, to design a mission, it is also pointless: a comparatively latest firmware replace launched assist for “Probe Mode,” which makes connecting breadboard rows so simple as poking them with a sharp needle.

Welcome to Wokwi

For a newcomer, the best strategy to get began with the Jumperless is to make use of Wokwi — the aforementioned graphical circuit design device. After signing up for a free account, you merely create a brand new mission and add a half-size breadboard mimicking the one on the Jumperless. Add the parts of your alternative and digital jumper wires, and — optionally, however well-advised — use Wokwi’s useful simulation function to check issues out.

The Jumperless comes with a software program device that acts as a bridge between your digital Wokwi mission and the bodily model. Accessible for Microsoft Home windows, Apple macOS, and any Linux distribution able to working Python 3 and dealing with a few USB UART gadgets, the software program helps you to talk with the Jumperless over a easy text-based consumer interface.

After you’ve got designed your Wokwi mission, you simply copy the URL and paste it into the Jumperless device — into one among eight selectable slots, permitting you to shortly flick between tasks on-demand. Choose the slot and the software program reaches out to Wokwi, downloads the mission, and converts it right into a netlist earlier than configuring the crosspoint switches accordingly.

You will know if it labored, as a result of all these RGB LEDs aren’t only for present: related rows are highlighted in matching colours, making it straightforward to see the place every element ought to go. They do not match the wire colours chosen in Wokwi, sadly, however that is a minor criticism. Impressively, in addition they replace in near-real-time: make a change in Wokwi and hit save, and the Jumperless rewires itself in lower than a second.

You are not simply restricted to wiring up fundamental parts, both. Including an Arduino Nano — or, within the firmware’s newest replace, an Arduino Nano ESP23, with extra pin-compatible boards to observe — to the mission helps you to not solely wire its pins wherever on the breadboard you please however even to jot down an Arduino sketch proper in Wokwi, and have it flashed to the bodily Arduino Nano put in within the Jumperless’ enlargement header robotically.

Superior customers

Utilizing the Jumperless with Wokwi feels somewhat like magic. Whereas, admittedly, you are still chargeable for putting the precise parts, having the ability to translate wiring modifications to the bodily breadboard in a single click on is unimaginable — however that is removed from the one factor you are able to do with the Jumperless.

The Jumperless features a two-channel DAC and entry to level-shifted ADC on the Raspberry Pi RP2040. (📹: Kevin Santo Cappuccio)

The 4 analog to digital converter (ADC) inputs on the Raspberry Pi RP2040 are current and proper on the Jumperless, with three level-shifted to 5V logic. The fourth is shifted to ±8V — and all 4 can be found to make use of within the Wokwi Logic Analyzer, together with a present sensing enter that may be related to any breadboard gap. This, in fact, implies that the Jumperless will not be solely jumperless however will be debugged with no bodily logic analyzer too.

That is a powerful sufficient checklist of superior options, however Cappuccio’s not executed there. The Jumperless additionally features a two-channel digital to analog converter (DAC), with one channel shifted to 0-5V and the opposite ±8V. These are absolutely controllable by the consumer, and can be utilized with a waveform generator built-in into the firmware — good to 40kHz and above, Cappuccio says. The second channel of the present sensor is related to the DAC’s ±8V output, too, as a useful bonus.

We’re not executed but, although. There is a small four-pin GPIO header to the top-left fringe of the board, away from the primary breadboard space. This could play host to add-ons, together with a recently-designed needle-tipped probe — unlocking the power to make use of the Jumperless solely offline, with no host pc. Simply join a USB energy provide or battery and the probe helps you to make or delete connections on the push of a button: simply pop the needle within the first gap adopted by the second and the switches shall be reconfigured robotically.

Add within the capacity to change between saved Wokwi mission slots — made simpler for those who add a rotary encoder on the Arduino Nano header, to imitate a function which is to be constructed into the following era Jumperless — and you have got a robust system. Should you nonetheless want extra, there’s loads of scope to construct your individual software program for the Jumperless because of its easy text-based interface — a third-party Node.js-based graphical consumer interface is already in growth.

The sticking factors

That is to not say the Jumperless is ideal — if it had been, Cappuccio would possible have much more free time. The firmware is underneath fixed growth, although primarily so as to add new options. The Python-based bridge software program is purposeful and responsive, however surprisingly hungry: continually polling for updates to Wokwi tasks sees it redline two CPU cores.

There isn’t any getting across the value concern, both. Whereas a regular half-size breadboard will set you again a greenback, and a pair extra for a good collection of jumper wires, the Jumperless is $299 — unavoidably so, once you take a look at how a lot {hardware} is packed into the gadget. Even accounting for the very fact it might probably, for some tasks, substitute a separate logic analyzer and benchtop energy provide, that is a steep price for entry into the Jumperless world.

However the easy truth is there is not any competitors. Should you want the options the Jumperless gives — and it has rather a lot to supply these keen to experiment, from powering self-configuring synth patches to serving as a reverse-engineering platform for unknown chips, and even working as a rudimentary EEPROM programmer — then it is the one system for you, no matter value. That is true even given the {hardware}’s limitations on routing complexity: the change matrix is not fully-connected however depends on good routing, which means that it is potential to breadboard a circuit it might probably’t wire up — although we could not hit this theoretical restrict throughout our testing.

That value additionally contains Cappuccio’s time — the maker is responsive on each the Jumperless discussion board and social media, and the fixed stream of firmware updates and new options proves his declare of deal with making the Jumperless nearly as good as potential isn’t any lie — and a no-quibble assure: for those who do not prefer it, ship your Jumperless again for a full refund. Should you do one thing thrilling but inadvisable and one way or the other break it, Cappuccio even guarantees to ship you the components to get it again up and working — and even to restore it for you, freed from cost.

For these tempted by a Jumperless however delay by the worth, there’s another choice: Cappuccio has launched the Jumperless design underneath the Weakly Reciprocal variant of the CERN Open {Hardware} License 2, whereas the firmware and software program are revealed underneath the permissive MIT license. This implies there’s nothing to cease you making your individual: the mission’s GitHub repository even contains manufacturing information alongside the KiCad mission information, able to be despatched off to the PCB fab of your alternative.

Conclusion

There’s nothing fairly just like the Jumperless, though the recently-unveiled Sandwizz comes shut — swapping a number of the superior options and useful RGB LEDs for widespread parts built-in instantly into the breadboard. The Jumperless is pricey, it is true, however for individuals who spend a whole lot of time chopping and altering the wiring of their prototypes it might show invaluable.

For many who suppose the Jumperless would not go far sufficient, in the meantime, there’s hope: the Jumperless V5 takes the idea and dials all the pieces as much as 11, not solely including the rotary encoder for mission choice that’s an non-obligatory additional on the present revision however extending the RGB LEDs to each particular person breadboard gap — festooning the board with a complete of 455 LEDs, sufficient even for a two-line scrolling textual content show or low-resolution video playback. Current Jumperless house owners will even be capable to decide up the V5 at-cost, Cappuccio guarantees.

Should you’re pleased with the present Jumperless design, although, and do not thoughts the worth, it is unlikely you will be upset. The Jumperless is the closest factor to magic you are prone to put in your workbench, and it is solely getting higher.

The Jumperless is available for purchase on Cappuccio’s Tindie retailer at $299, together with a package to assemble the probe; Hackster readers can get an additional ten per cent off with the low cost code ‘7B9F76F6’. Full sources and design information can be found on GitHub, whereas neighborhood discussions will be discovered on the Jumperless discussion board.


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